OK, so it's a fact that Cinco de Mayo is not a big a deal in Mexico as it is in the United States. It's virtually like every other holiday we've conscripted in the party roster of the U.S. (We are just really good at partying?) But if you are going to celebrate on May 5, well as my grandmother used to tell me, the best way to know a person or a culture is through their food. Which means you'll need authentic Mexican recipes for your Cinco de Mayo celebration. So I asked my friend Esmerelda Gonzalez of Brooklyn, New York to tell me a little bit about her family's food tradition and if she could share some recipes that would make for a delicious Cinco De Mayo celebration that truly honors the roots of this day.
Esmerelda tells Romper, "We really don't celebrate Cinco de Mayo as a special day. My mother was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and to them, it's like celebrating the battle of Gettysburg or something. It's the commemoration of the Mexican armies defeating the French during the Franco-Mexican war, but it's not our Independence day." She says that in the States, if it's a "cartoon parody of Mexican culture," that's not OK. But she says, "If you're genuinely celebrating our heritage and learning more about it, that's cool. Just don't wear a sombrero while you're doing it."
When I asked her what she would serve at a party celebrating Mexican heritage and culture, she had tons of ideas. Here are some of her best.
1. Jalisco-Style Tortas Or Mexican Sandwiches
For the meat:
- 2 lb pork butt
- 1 cup of Orange Jarritos or Fanta
- 1 raw jalapeno
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1 8 oz can of tomato sauce (Goya with chili and lime)
- 1 tbsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 4 tbsp olive oil or pork fat
For the sandwich:
- 1 cup canned or homemade refried beans (black is best)
- thinly sliced avocados — a ton
- chopped red onion
- 1 tsp chopped chili de arbol
- (optional) lettuce and cilantro
- 8 Mexican buns or hard rolls
This is so easy, guys. Season the meat with salt and pepper and sear it in a cast iron skillet in the olive oil on medium high heat or high heat if using pork fat. (Bacon fat is fine) Then dump everything for the meat and the pork butt in the crock pot and let it cook on low for eight hours. Shred it with two forks.
Combine the mayo and chili de arbol and smear on one side of the bun. On the other side, smear the beans as you would mayo. Top with lettuce, onion, cilantro, avocado, and meat, and dig in. For a true Jalisco experience, you'd need to douse these in a tomato chili sauce, but that is a little messy for a party.
2. Jalisco Salsa
Y'all. Esmerelda makes this in the blender, that's how delightful this is. I will tell you from personal experience that this salsa is life. Changing. She also makes homemade chips by making homemade corn tortillas and frying them in pork fat. Because she's a goddess.
- 5 ripe roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
- 3 or 4 freshly chopped jalapeno
- 1 serrano chili, seeded and chopped
- the juice of one lime
- 1 tsp sea salt
- handful of fresh cilantro
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp sugar dissolved in 1 tbsp white vinegar
Blend for one minute. Thank me later.
3. The Jalisco Mezcal Smoke
OK, so Jalisco is famous for its Tequila train, but Mezcal is its smokier cousin and makes a killer cocktail that's 100000 times better than a frozen margarita from a machine.
- 1 tbsp agave syrup
- 1 tsp raw sugar
- 1 oz mezcal
- 1 1/2 oz tequila (silver)
- 1/2 oz Grand Marnier
- few sprigs of cilantro and mint
- ounce of lime juice
- two strips of lime rind
Combine the agave and sugar with the herbs in the bottom of a shaker and muddle it with a baton or the bottom of a wooden spoon. Cover with ice. Add remaining ingredients except the peel. Shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass and flame the lime rind before dropping in. (Do this in front of everyone because obviously.)
4. Birria Jalisco
Don't freak out, Americans, but this is usually made with goat. However, pork or lamb is fine. Birria is usually served with fresh tortillas like a taco, or with rice and beans. It's freaking amazing, and because again, Esmerelda is a goddess, she makes it in the crock pot.
- 4 lbs cubed lamb, goat, pork, or beef (not lean)
- 3 dried ancho peppers reconstituted in 1 cup of Mexican beer (not Corona, Victoria is better)
- 1 jalapeno, chopped
- 3 guajillo peppers, reconstituted in 1/2 cup water, chopped
- 2 15 oz cans of fire-roasted chopped tomatoes
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 5 tbsp chopped garlic
For the garnish
- lime wedges
- pickled red onions (optional)
Take everything but the meat and blend it. Place meat in slow cooker and pour mix over the meat. Cook on low "while you're at work or from the morning until the party." Tip: You can make the sauce the night before and put it in the fridge. Totally fine. She says you can also throw it over the meat in a baking dish and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for five or so hours, covered.
Also known as Jalisco fruit salad or Mexican ambrosia, this stuff is perfect on a hot May day.
For the sauce:
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 can evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup sour cream — room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the salad:
- chopped fruits like starfruit, kiwi, cantaloupe, oranges, banana, papaya, mango
- 1 cup grated coconut (sweetened, this isn't a diet salad)
- 1 cup coarsely mashed corn flakes or granola
- chopped nuts
Ezzy says that most people also add raisins, but that she thinks it looks like bird droppings in the salad, so avoid those. Go for halved fresh grapes instead. Mix together all the liquids until smooth and pour over the fruit. Let marinate for an hour before serving.
For the fish:
- 1 lb of fresh firm fish like snapper or scallops, chopped into 1/4" cubes
- the juice of 5 limes or about 1 cup of lime juice
- 1 tsp sea salt
For the Ceviche
- 1 chopped jalapeno
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 2 roma tomatos, seeded and diced
- 1/2 tsp oregano (Mexican is best)
- 2 roasted red bell peppers in oil, chopped
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- dash of tabasco for each serving
Combine the fish, salt, and lime juice and place in the fridge for at least an hour. While that's marinating, chop and combine the other ingredients. Combine fish with tomato mixture and serve with tabasco. Serve in lettuce cups.
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